Denver, CO, April 06, 2016 --(PR.com
)-- Colorado becomes the third state to pass #AutoErase legislation which requires that arrest records are automatically erased of innocent individuals wrongfully arrested due to mistaken identity. The bill, HB16-1265 – “Expungement of Arrest Records Based On Mistaken Identity,” was introduced and championed by Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) and Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) and co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) and Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley). Colorado joins North Carolina and Illinois in passing a piece of criminal justice reform legislation that was born out of the wrongful arrest of Hollywood independent producer and entertainment industry executive, Charles Belk.
On August 22, 2014, Charles Belk was mistakenly identified as an armed bank robber because he fit the description of a tall, bald, Black male. He was handcuffed, detained, taken to the police station, booked, denied a phone call, denied being told his charges, denied immediate access to an attorney, jailed for six hours for Armed Bank Robbery and Accessory to Armed Robbery and held under a $100,000 bail. Although he was released later that night and given a Certificate of Detention, which indicated he was only detained and not arrested, an arrest record appeared on the Sheriff’s website and a state legal process had to be followed to get the arrest record sealed and destroyed. Since his arrest, Belk launched a nationwide effort, through the non-profit he founded, Fitting The Description, and his #AutoErase Initiative, to educate and inform those about the perils of wrongful arrest records, and engage legislation to alleviate the burden and costs incurred by the innocent to remove those arrest records.
#AutoErase legislation has been signed into law in both North Carolina and Illinois, and is currently pending legislation in 11 other states (Rhode Island, Connecticut, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, South Carolina, and Nebraska).
Innocent people in Colorado, as well as throughout the country, are wrongfully charged each day with a felony or misdemeanor crime because the charges were issued as the result of mistaken identity (i.e., misidentification by a witness or law enforcement, confusion on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, misinformation provided to law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, or some other mistake on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime), or because someone else used their information. Because the responsibility to remove a wrongful arrest record falls on the charged individual, he or she is burden with the expenses and time required to handle such a task. If a person does not have the erroneous arrest record removed, it can greatly affect his or her ability in the future to get a job, a loan or certain licenses. This bill requires that a court shall expunge the arrest and criminal records information of a person who was arrested as a result of mistaken identity and who did not have charges filed against him or her.
“This is an incredible piece of legislation, and so many Coloradoans probably do not fully understand or are unaware of the perils of having a wrongful arrest record,” Charles Belk said. “But even more incredible, as I travel from state to state, is to see the true advantage of bipartisanship and how a body of elected officials can be so effective when they work together across party lines, as was the case with this bill and members of the Colorado General Assembly.”
Four bills were introduced in 2016 in the Colorado General Assembly aimed at “rebuilding trust” between police and the community, and have received bipartisan support, in an effort organized by Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver). The other three bills are – HB16-1264, prohibiting the use of a chokehold unless self-defense; HB16-1263, expanding the definition of profiling; and HB16-1262, addressing officers hiding a serious offense, resigning and applying for a job with a different police force. “ All four bills have passed both chambers, and the #AutoErase Bill was the first to do so.
Fitting The Description, a 501.c.3, tax exempt, non-profit organization, was established to help build awareness of wrongful detentions and arrests that occur each day because an individual “fit the description.” The organization helps educate and inform others about the perils of wrongful arrests records, and advocates for alleviating the burden and costs incurred by the innocent to remove those arrest records.
Charles Belk was born and raised in Durham, NC, and is a producer at and president of I Will Make You a Star Productions, a Los Angeles-based, social/digital marketing and production company. He is also the founder and executive director of Fitting The Description Inc. Charles Belk is a graduate of Durham Hillside High School and received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Indiana University, and an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Business School.